Illinois Football: After Hot Start, Illini Now in Search of Lost Identity

Todd ThorstensonAnalyst IOctober 26, 2011

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 15: C.J. Barnett #4 (L) and Bradley Roby #25 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tackle Nathan Scheelhaase #2 of the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 17-7. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Lack of preparation.

Lack of focus.

Bad offense.

Bad special teams.

At times, even bad defense.

Other than the things mentioned above, Illinois has played pretty sound football over the past couple of weeks.

For a team that started the season 6-0 and have been ranked as high as 16th in the country, the Illini are in danger of quickly becoming insignificant.

With last Saturday's dismal loss to Purdue, Illinois has now dropped two straight games to inferior - or so we thought - opponents and have dropped out of the top 25 as well.  This presents a problem since the Illini now have to face conference leader Penn State followed by Michigan and Wisconsin in their next three games.

Last week after the loss to Ohio State I warned people not to press the panic button just yet.  However after the debacle against Purdue on Saturday, it may be wise to not only repeatedly pound the panic button, but scream for help as well.

The most disturbing trend over the last several weeks for the Illini is that they continue to fall behind early in the game and have to dig themselves out of a hole each time.

In their first four conference games Illinois has trailed by at least 10 points in each of them.  They were able to come back against Northwestern and Indiana, but failed to do so against Ohio State and Purdue.

This is not a recipe for winning football and Illini Nation has seen this movie before.

Surprisingly the main problem has been the once potent offense that is now having trouble scoring.

Ron Zook and his staff need to get things corrected - and quickly - before things get any uglier. The question is whether he is capable of doing that and right now there's not many people who believe that he can.

Zook has been criticized repeatedly by fans and media during his tenure in Champaign for his lack of preparation and game management.  The complaint has always been that he can recruit, but can't coach --and sometimes it's hard to argue with that sentiment.

Before last season Zook went out and got himself a new offensive and defensive coordinator which have certainly made a difference, but if the Illini continue to collapse this year, he will remain on the hot seat.

The road ahead is now looking very daunting as the Illini head to Happy Valley this week to face a Penn State team that is 4-0 in the Big Ten and looking for revenge after Illinois beat them 33-13 last year.

Illinois is now a team in flux and searching for the recipe that got them to a 6-0 start, but will they be able to find it in time?

Sure, they're already bowl elgible, but after winning their first six games, there is a possiblity that they could lose their next five, or maybe even six.

Not exactly how a team wants to go into a bowl game.

I'd say it's time for Illinois to answer the bell against Penn State on Saturday -- or it may become yet another disappointing season.